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News 04 Oct 17

Vucic Scraps Croatia Visit as Relations Worsen

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has indefinitely postponed his announced visit to Zagreb, following a recent worsening in Croatia-Serbia relations.

Sven Milekic
Aleksandar Vucic meeting Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic on bridge on Croatian-Serbian border in June 2016. Photo: Beta

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic's office has confirmed that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has postponed his announced visit to Zagreb, the Croatian daily Vecernji list reported on Wednesday.

The official visit should have taken place in November or December but has been postponed indefinitely.

“Given the comprehensive circumstances on which the date of the visit depends, it [the date] has not yet been established,” the President's office told Vecernji.

"Given the latest developments and the atmosphere that does not contribute to building mutual trust, the President of the Republic of Croatia has estimated that there are no preconditions for the visit at this time," the President's office told regional N1 media hub.

The postponement of the visit follows a new spat between Croatia and Serbian over a statue erected in the Serbian capital to a Yugoslav People’s Army Major, Milan Tepic.

Croatian on Monday condemned the erection of a monument to Tepic, who blew up a Yugoslav Army ammunition depot during the Croatian war of independence, killing himself and 12 other people in Bjelovar in 1991.

The Croatian Foreign Ministry said the erection of the statue confirmed that Serbia “still isn’t ready to confront the past and its role in the bloody breakup [of the former Yugoslavia]”.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic responded on Tuesday by accusing Croatian officials of “anti-Serbian hysteria” and by calling their protest “madness”.

“Compared to [Croatian officials], he is a moral giant,” Dacic said of Tepic in an interview on Serbia’s public broadcaster, RTS.

Serbia's Defence Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, has further angered Croatia by claiming that Croatia’s war of independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990s was a “civil” war and not, as Croatia says, an act of outside aggression.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic both condemned the statement, repeating that Serbia waged an aggressive war on Croatia.

The issue remains disputed, even in Croatia, however.

Certain laws and a parliamentary declaration on the war maintain that the war was an act of aggression by Serbia and Montenegro against Croatia, but Croatian courts also take into account an assumption that the war was a civil war, at least at the start.

In war crime cases, Croatian courts apply the Geneva Protocol on the protection of victims of non-international conflicts for all crimes that took place before October 8, 1991.

This was the date when Croatia broke all ties with the Yugoslav state and declared independence.

Some experts argue also that the war was a civil war until it ended in 1995, because it involved Croatian forces fighting Croatian Serbs.

Despite a number of spats between Croatia and Serbia, Grabar Kitarovic and Vucic had enjoyed cordial relations.

Vucic attended Grabar Kitarovic’s presidential inauguration in Zagreb in February 2015. Grabar Kitarovic in turn attended Vucic’s inauguration in June this year.

They have also had a few meetings, in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, while Vucic was still Serbia's Prime Minister.

In June 2016, they met both in eastern Croatia and in the Serbian region of Vojvodina. There, they signed a declaration on improving relations, which dealt with issues of national minorities, wartime missing persons, border disputes and succession issues concerning the former Yugoslavia.

NOTE: This article has been updated on October 4 to include a statement from Croatian President Office detailig the reasons behind the postponement of Vucic's visit.

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